Friday, December 09, 2011


I saw this on Facebook, and shared it there. But it's too important to stop at the 500M FB users so I'm sharing here, too, with credit to Jennifer Cornelison Harper.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Bazaar Bizarre San Francisco Dec 3, 2011

We braved the sunny weather today to attend the Bazaar Bizarre (San Francisco edition) at the Concourse Exhibition Center East. Here are the vendors/artists we liked the most:

  • Kelso Doesn't Dance - Kelso repurposes old books, playing cards, and maps into notebooks. She has an Etsy shop where you can find items online, but they are more fun to browse in person.
  • Sweet Meats - Lauren Venell creates cute pork chop, steak, and bacon pillows out of 100% recycled PET bottles. Super cute!
  • Double Parlour - Sculpture and illustrations both simple and sublime. Double Parlour also has an Etsy shop.
  • Bird Mafia - Gorgeous cut paper designs layered to produce a 3-D shadow box effect. View designs and info on the site, and shop on their Etsy page.
  • Feral Artery (Etsy shop) - Mutants and monsters abound! A chihuahua body with a lemur head and bloody fangs? A white yeti with glowing purple eyes? Sounds good to us.
  • Studio M.M.E. Illustrations - Can a design be at once both cute and mysterious? Megan Eckman has proven it so! Visit to view her illustrations, embroidery patterns, jewelry, notebooks, and other hand-made items.
  • Maggie Hurley - Portraits, illustrations, and plush toys are charming but not simple. I really liked the small, square bird and animal paintings, though you can see a high level of quality in all of her work.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Horoscope November 27, 2011

Thank you, horoscope, for telling me what I needed to hear:
You may be emerging from a tough phase, yet you're still able to rationalize what you want. However, many delicious feelings are bubbling up from your subconscious now and tempting you to set aside your objectivity. Hold on steady and keep your eyes on the current opportunities, for this wave should ultimately bring a positive transformation. 
Will do!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Year's Resolutions (A Bit Early)

Why wait till January 1st to make positive changes? Here are five things I will be doing more of, starting now:
  1. Read more - read a book for fun at least once per month. (Business books don't count unless they are fun!)
  2. Get a massage every now and then.
  3. Go to the woods or park -- Muir Woods, SF Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers. Bonus points for picnics!
  4. Reach out to friends and relatives. Even if it's as simple as sending an email every now-and-then, make a concerted effort to let my loved ones know I care.
  5. Track food and exercise diligently.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Another useful horoscope

You think that you can hear the future calling you today, and you want to get things rolling. But you aren't sure whether or not to take the whole thing seriously. Rest assured the opportunity is worth pursuing, so don't waste time wondering if it's real. It doesn't matter; just pick up the imaginary phone and engage the possibilities.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A reminder about forgiveness

From the Integratron
(Photo courtesy of Robin Hunicke)
I am learning about forgiveness this year. Here is another excellent reminder:
Your emotional perceptions are keen today, but you could inadvertently mix up old memories with the current situation. Your insecurities may be tied to an old pattern of attachment that has been followed by disappointment. But you're not obliged to repeat the past; instead, clear your slate by retelling your story in a new and different way, one that doesn't place blame on anyone else for your feelings. Once you take full responsibility for your reactions, you'll be freer to open your heart even wider.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Advice on breaking into - and working in - the video game industry part 2

Q:  What are the core skills for a producer?

A:  From my experience, the core skills for a producer vary but generally include:  people management, negotiation/mediation, coaching/mentoring, solid knowledge of game development (including the area which they oversee), contract review, time management/scheduling, presentation/public speaking, and mastery of software tools for the creation of spreadsheets/slide decks/documents and so forth (i.e. MS Office or similar). Specialized knowledge of production techniques can come later--having several of these will get you in the door at least, regardless of your background.

Q:  How do I develop the skills needed to become a producer?

A:  The best way to develop any skill is by using it. If that's not an option (i.e. because you aren't in the position yet), you should be able to read books, take classes or find colleagues who can help you in person. There are also lots of skills that aren't specific to games--public speaking and presenting, for example, can be learned/enhanced through Toastmasters International. You may wish to take online project management courses if you really want to delve deep into that specialty. If you just want an overview, I highly recommend the book The Business Savvy Project Manager by Gary Heerkens. It is by far the best overview of indispensable project management skills for anyone, minus all of the stupid bullshit that isn't really useful.

Q:  What are employers looking for in an entry-level producer candidate?

A:  Employers are looking for someone who fits the job description completely or partially. If partially, enthusiasm, pragmatism, intelligence, and diligence can make up the deficit. If you are seeking an entry level position, you'll have to differentiate your application. I suggest finding a professional resume template online and using that to draft a polished resume. Make sure that you have ZERO typos or grammatical errors in your resume and cover letter. Be sure the correct company name and job title appears in all correspondence (believe it or not, I've seen plenty of applications with cut-and-paste errors).

Most importantly for anyone trying to "break in" from another area or even industry:  find ways to take what you've done before--game-related or not--and show how the skills you gained or problems you solved can be applicable to the job to which you are applying.

For example, if you were in QA, explain that your daily responsibility was to evaluate the state of the release and to bring critical issues to the attention of your boss/lead. Describe the tools you used (showing technical savvy & familiarity with engineering process) as well as communication channels (email, discussion, meetings, showing that you are a team player and understand group dynamics). The best way to make this list, in my opinion, is to write down each task you do and the break it into components--did it require tech, communication, team work, specialized knowledge, problem solving skills, etc.? This way you can show an employer that you have skills that are applicable to their needs, even if you don't have direct job experience.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Advice on breaking into - and working in - the video game industry

This post is a compendium of emails and articles I've written for folks interested in breaking into the video game industry. I will continue to post as I have more information to share.

Q:  What do hiring managers look for?

A:  We see lots of young, fresh-out-of-school people who don't understand what it's like to hold a day job, and have unrealistic expectations of what it means to make games. Therefore, working on games as a hobby, before you get paid for it, is a real plus from the perspective of a person looking at your resume. 

Hiring managers want to know that you know what it takes to make a game, have a strong work ethic, and are dedicated to the idea of being a part of something cool like a video game. Honestly, there are 100 people applying for each job so we never lack candidates. What we DO lack are GOOD candidates. We need people who are dedicated and reliable. If you can find a way to convey that when applying for jobs, I encourage you to do so!

Q:  How do I learn how to network? What about self-promotion?

A:  I feel very lucky to know a lot of awesome folks in the industry, from indie developers to big studio/publisher executives. I met these people by learning who is who in the industry, then seeking out people I wanted to know more about at industry events. Because I live in an area where there are a lot of game development studios, it's fairly easy for me to locate them. 

If you aren't near many industry vets, you might try attending trade shows such as PAX, GDC, and so forth. In addition, you should cultivate a professional personality. For example, you can write a game-related blog (in your chosen domain, of course), and post professional, well-crafted entries on a regular basis. Also, I recommend establishing a profile on listing your experience (in all areas) and participating in indie game development contests.

Q:  What is included in an average day in the life of a producer?

A:  I work with product managers to secure review and approval for the features they design. I work with our engineers to get estimates for implementing the features. I work with artists and content creators to ensure they have the information and designs they need to execute on in-game items, animations, levels, and marketing assets. Basically, I understand all of the pieces that go into a new version of our game, and then help everyone execute on them by holding meetings, schedules for the team, writing documentation, and lots of other small tasks.

Q:  Where did you start in the industry, and how long did it take you to work your way up?

A:  I worked in software development for more than four years, starting in Technical Support, moving to Quality Assurance, and finally into project management. I decided that I wanted to move into video game development, and found the skills I'd gained applied very well to game development. I joined Linden Lab to work on Second Life in 2005 as a Project Coordinator. From there, I worked as Program and Project Manager for, BioWare Edmonton's Dragon Age:  Origins, online features for Mass Effect 2 and other games at EA, project manager at World Golf Tour, Agile Program Manager at Playdom SF, and Director of Studio Operations at Loot Drop, Inc.

Q:  What skills would someone need to get a job in the game industry?

A:  Loving video games is great, but that alone doesn't qualify you for a job. You need to have a skill or two that is in demand for the creation of games:  for artists, this should be both traditional and digital art skills; for programmers, modern programming language experience, and graphics or physics programming knowledge; for designers, scripting language such as Lua or Python; for animators, experience with 3D animation using a popular program such as Maya; for QA or other entry-level roles, experience doing the thing you want a position for, even as a hobby or non-professionally, is a boon. Producers tend to come from one of these other disciplines, having decided to follow a management path. Some of us, like me, are professional project managers who are applying our skills to this industry.

Q:  What software packages should students learn to improve their ability to work in games? 

A:  Maya, 3D Studio Max, After Effects, and QuickTime for animators; C++, C#, Unreal Engine, Unity 3D engine, ActionScript3, etc. for programmers; Lua, Python, Unreal Editor for designers; Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush, etc. for artists. I'm sure there are others, but these are the most popular and useful.

Q:  How much of the producer's work is collaborative?

A:  My work is all collaborative - everything I do is on behalf of the team or the product or the company!

Most work done in games is collaborative from the perspective that the person designing things isn't implementing them, and people have to work together to produce polished final content. That said, most people will work half a day alone, and maybe a quarter of the day in meetings or reviews where collaboration occurs.

Q:  What is the most common shortcoming of job seekers in the game industry? 

A:  There are a lot of people who want to make games. There is a lot of competition for positions. However, if you are motivated and have initiative to learn tools and techniques on your own, recruiters and hiring managers will take notice. They want people who know how to work hard and don't expect making games to be as fun as playing them (because it's not).

Q:  What is your educational background?  Do you feel it adequately prepared you for your career?

A:  I majored in Japanese in college. I wound up moving into tech in 2001 when there were lots of jobs in the sector and not enough "qualified" applicants. Five years later, in 2005, I moved into video games and have been here since. What prepared me for a career in video games was my love of video games more than anything else. I found that what I'm good at - project management - is needed in the production of games large and small. So, I can follow my passions in play and work at the same time. I'm currently working on my masters degree in project management to add a classical education to my self-taught project management skills.

Q:  What opportunities are there for promotion in the game industry?

A:  The opportunities to advance really depend on the area you are in. Most specialists - designers, artists, animators, engineers - can choose between a management role or a subject-matter expert role in which they mentor others but don't directly oversee them. Regardless of the role, your typical progression in most departments is:  junior or assistant, then associate, then ..., and eventually senior or lead, manager, and finally director. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Netflix was right to "fail fast" with Qwikster

By now you've heard that Qwikster is dead, either in the media or through an email from Netflix itself. Yes, it was a colossal error that came at a time when customers were already annoyed with price hikes. And yes, it was stupid to loudly proclaim that it was the best thing ever and then pull it just weeks later.

Clearly Netflix embraced the "ship fast and iterate" concept, which got them into the jam. But they did something right, too - they embraced the "fail fast" concept, meaning they realized their error and went about correcting it quickly.

When a project is doomed, it's a lot better to fail fast and pull back before more money and time are lost. Especially when internal staff and external users aren't embracing it. Why wait till it loses millions and millions of dollars to fail? It's far better to acknowledge the failure and get back to business.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

What is a Video Game Producer?

Most of the people who know me know that I work in the video game industry, but they don't really know what I do all day. Well, now I can just show them this video!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Things I learned in 2010

Here are some things that I learned in 2010:

  • What people want for themselves may sound like what you want for yourself. However, all desire is in the eye of the beholder. Trust but verify.
  • I am smart and eager for challenges.
  • I am a natural leader but I can be hesitant to push as hard as a good leader should. It's okay if I push a bit more.
  • I love the video game industry, but not all games are created equal.
  • Honesty is the best policy...but so is waiting a day or two to speak your mind.
I am looking forward to reading my list of things learned in 2011.

Monday, September 05, 2011


It's time for action. I've been trying to figure this shit out for years now, to no avail. I'm going to have to take the plunge sometime.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Another one for posterity

I was also interviewed by Deborah Fike for last month. The article is in PDF form, and can be accessed here.

Interview on

Here is the text of my interview on Posting here should the permalink fail someday. :-)

[In this interview with Loot Drop's Karen Clark, the studio operations director talks with Gamasutra about the processes and trends in the social gaming recruitment market and how they affect employees at traditional developers.]

Sometimes, it feels like the last days of Rome. The rigid structures of the past are crumbling, their leading lights struggling to adapt. Aggressive new tribes are on the move and gaining ground.

Where once the games industry had consolidated into a small group of publishing clusters dedicated to feeding the console market, it is now also a chaos of start-ups serving digital, mobile, social et al.

Large companies shed employees as a part of "normal business practice" (in their own, vile words). Meanwhile, start-ups compete to attract the best-talent swirling around the market, often people with technical and entrepreneurial skills that were not highly valued by the big employers.

I visited with someone at the center of this morass, Karen Clark, recently appointed director of studio operations at Loot Drop. Yeah, that's the social start-up headed up by big names like John Romero, Brenda Brathwaite, Laralyn McWilliams and Tom Hall.

Clark is interesting in ways not often highlighted by the media. She's in charge of "everything from the recruiting pipeline to managing employee needs, vendors, outsourcing...everything that is not the actual game itself."

If you're thinking of a move into social, she's worth a listen. She has bags of experience at Playdom, EA and Linden Labs.

Loot Drop is just 18 people right now, all but one in San Mateo, CA, with Tom Hall the beginning of a planned Austin studio. The company is looking to double-up in the next few months.

It is finishing its first game, Cloudforest Expedition, which will be published by RockYou this summer, with a second unannounced title further down the line. Core team members previously worked on the social game Ravenwood Fair for LOLapps, currently bringing in over a million DAUs.

Clark says the jobs market is in a weird place. Cost-cutting publishers and the weak economy mean there are "a lot of people on the market right now." But a VC boom in social gaming also means "everybody is hiring." (Loot Drop is boot-strapped.)

She adds, "Everybody in the social space is growing. You can look at job postings and you'll see a large volume of candidates being hired from places up and down the [Bay Area] peninsula, the south bay and in San Francisco. There's a lot of competition for this particular market segment."

Loot Drop says it isn't working with recruiters. "Everybody is coming to us. We're in a good position. We have a lot of talented people applying and talking to us."

Interesting that the hot roles of a few years back have been superseded as the market has shifted. "There are a lot of people coming from triple-A who have been displaced due to changes in consumer appetites. Unfortunately, not all of those jobs map well. For example, there are a lot of 3D texture artists, but it's hard to map that role to a Facebook game. Flash animation, traditional illustration are more important than making 3D levels. A really hardcore Flash coder is at the same kind of premium that those 3D texture mappers were five years ago."

It's not just refugees from the console games sector. Hungry young talent is out there, looking for a challenge and for their big chance.

"Some people in the industry are more entrepreneurial than others. They want to shift into social right now because that's where the money is, but also because it's a very different sort of creative challenge. If you look at John and Brenda, they aren't doing this to chase a buck, they are doing this because they're pursuing something that fascinates them."

Clark concedes that farm-building games won't attract the big creative thinkers, adding that Cloudforest Expedition will show that social games can be built that include narrative, depth, characters and a sense of exploration.

"We're going to see more story-driven games with plot structure. It's not just going to be about 'let's build a bunch of buildings...hooray...what now?' We're making games with a higher level of emotional engagement and that's attractive for a lot of the players on social networks, especially given the female bias in that sector."

The massive disruption in business models - and therefore required skills - is also a reason why many are looking to social. This is an opportunity to learn. Games must be built that can grab players instantly, that can lure them in over a period of minutes, hours, days and more, that can be monetized incrementally.

"Playing games [on Facebook] isn't about laying down $50," she says. "The player makes a tiny commitment with a minimum of exertion. There's an extremely low barrier for entry, and that makes people explore more. What does that mean for game design?"

She adds, "The biggest trend right now is being able to react to the metrics, to consumer behavior. Game design isn't just about the designer; it's about how the designer collects and reacts to the metrics. We need to put the user first, but we need designers who aren't just following the numbers."

"This approach appeals to people who really know what they're doing in design, who enjoy the constant feedback and love to iterate quickly and come up with something that is even better than what was originally made. That's the trifecta, right?"

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Goodbye, GoDaddy - Hello NameCheap!

Like many others, I was appalled by the video of CEO Bob Parsons proudly displaying the carcass of an elephant he'd shot on safari. (I'm not posting a video because I don't want to drive any traffic to his site.)

Anyway, a Twitter friend turned me on to a deal that hosting provider & domain registrar was having. I got a discount on registration using the code BYEBYEGD, which also allowed them to donate a portion of my fee to help elephants escape d-bags like Parsons.

So if you are paying GoDaddy any money what-so-ever, STOP NOW and move to a company that doesn't actively encourage cruel, imperialistic behavior!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew..

In his book The Fifth Discipline, author Peter Senge describes five learning disciplines that promote excellence in the organization (2006):

1.    Personal mastery - learning becomes the foundation on which innovation and creativity may be built.

2.    Mental models - Mental models are constructs that we create in order to explain occurrences in our world.  These models directly affect the way that we experience the world around us. 

3.    Building shared vision - Shared vision promotes creativity and risk taking because it compels people to innovate.  The strength of the vision and the extent to which others adopt it depends on the “enrollment” of the people who participate.

4.    Team learning - Team learning occurs when a team is able to operate as a unit larger than the sum of its parts. 

5.    Systems thinking - No longer operating as individuals, the team has reached a collaborative state where the sum is greater than its parts; the team is able to function on a higher level and create products, services, or innovations beyond those which could have been made alone.

From my perspective as a project manager, I must seek out and remove impediments which prevent our team from succeeding.  These impediments can be directly tied to project deliverables, such as lack of resources or implementation problems, or they can be related to the system in which we work.  That is, if the team is able to overcome the limitations of individual work and become a true team as described by Senge, I believe that we can handle any block that we encounter.

Planning is the act of creating a scenario in which things go a certain way.  For example, I can create a project plan that says "we will build product X in 6 months at this pace, with these building blocks, for this amount of money."  However, it is in the support, training, and efficacy of the team that this plan comes to pass.  I can identify risks and make a plan to mitigate them, but if the team doesn't react well to the risk's occurrence, my plan may be useless.  If they are able to react as a cohesive unit, helping one another succeed, then the plan is able to be carried out.

As a project manager, I strive for control.  But I must also acknowledge that control is an illusion and that flexibility, innovation, improvisation, communication, and team work are worth more than any plan I could write.  A stack of paper saying how things will work will always lose out to the reality that we experience when we embark on a new project.  The wise project manager knows this, and embraces it.

Burns, R. (1785).  "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough."  Retrieved from

Senge, P.  M. (2006).  The fifth discipline (Revised edition).  New York, NY:  Doubleday, Inc.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Courtney (a.k.a. @kirbybits) has posted a list of user stories from women in the industry on her blog. The idea is that a game development team can print out the stories and use them as features for their next project, without needing to have actual women involved. Here's mine:

The Karen: As a gamer, I am able to select the gender of my avatar, and customize it to reflect my preferences of size, shape, and skin color as is appropriate to the game world.

I don't mind playing a pre-fab character, but I definitely love getting to create a hero or heroine that reflects me in some way. Escapism is my favorite part of video game play, and that starts with the ability to "own" the protagonist. Customization is a simple way to do this.

I have to say that Shepard in Mass Effect & Mass Effect 2 is the strongest example of this. My version of Shepard is a dark-haired woman with pale, lightly freckled skin and a scar on her face. I grew very attached to her through the first ME game, and when I got to resuscitate her for the second I was really excited. I had actually missed her! What's more, when I see the marketing collateral for ME I always wonder who that guy is and why they picked him. My female Shepard is vastly superior and would eat him for breakfast.

In summary: customization is a key factor for engaging this gamer. A deep game that doesn't have it is definitely missing something, and will be less likely to hold my attention (and get me to buy expansion packs, DLC, merchandise, the sequel(s), and so forth)!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What is Integrated Change Control?

     Integrated Change Control is a project management tool used to manage the impact of change on the project through the submission, review, approval of change in its many forms (PMI, 2008, p. 93). This Project Integration Management process is carried out during all phases of the project.

     Change Control requires careful attention by the project management team, and diligence on that part of internal and external project team members.  All team members must adhere to the process for requesting changes to the agreed-upon project scope.  Once the project scope has been identified, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) created, and the team set about implementation of the project, what seems like a "simple tweak" may cost the team time and money, derailing dependent tasks downstream.  Thus the project manager creates a process which encourages people wishing to make changes to the project to complete a written request and to explain the value to the project and the potential drawbacks.  This is the case even if the change is initiated by the team itself (PMI, p. 94).

     Once change request is submitted, the review committee will examine it.  They may ask the submitter for additional information or context, or interview the team to understand the potential risks and impact of the change.  Each change is documented in the change log, and the approval status recorded.  A configuration management tool may be used for the purpose of receiving, sorting, tracking, and storing these requests (PMI, p. 95).

     The approval of the change opens the next stage gate to update the project as needed.  The project manager integrates the change into the schedule, updates the appropriate documents including:  project management plan, schedules, WBS, communication plan, risk plan, and so on as needed (PMI, p. 96).  

     At project close, the change requests should be reviewed by the team.  These changes may indicate areas of poor project planning, and can serve as teaching tools for the team who may undertake similar projects again.  With added insight, planning for new projects may become more refined and accurate.

The important points of this process may be summarized as follows:

1. All changes to the defined project scope must be submitted in a change request.

2. All change requests are submitted to a central repository of requests, which are tracked whether approved or denied.

3. Change requests are reviewed in context of work done to-date, and work to be done, with benefits and risks weighed.

4. Approved changes are treated as added project scope, documented appropriately and completely integrated into the project as with any other deliverable or task.

5. Changes are reviewed at project close to help the team understand how to predict them and prevent scope creep on the next project or iteration.

PMI. (2008). A guide to the project management book of knowledge, 4th ed. Newtown Square, PA:  Project Management Institute.